Making a home, however temporary Spanish Fort woman opens home to foster animals

Posted 1/11/24

Amid a rising numbers of animals being brought to shelters nationwide and locally, Barbara Uttaro found a sense of purpose in opening her home to furry companions.

Initially motivated by a …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Subscribe to continue reading. Already a subscriber? Sign in

Get the gift of local news. All subscriptions 50% off for a limited time!

You can cancel anytime.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Making a home, however temporary Spanish Fort woman opens home to foster animals


Amid a rising numbers of animals being brought to shelters nationwide and locally, Barbara Uttaro found a sense of purpose in opening her home to furry companions.

Initially motivated by a desire to contribute to the Virginia Beach community, Uttaro continued her mission when she relocated to Baldwin County. Her goal remained the same – providing a warm and loving home for animals in need.

"I fostered for several years in Virginia Beach," Uttaro said. "I had my own dog, and then I would foster a dog, and it is kind of nice that way because it is like you can try out of a dog and if they match with you very well, then you adopt them."

Baldwin County Animal Shelter Manager George Majors highlighted the increase in animals they have received since 2022.

"In 2022, we had 1,353 animals come into the shelter, whereas in 2023 we had 1,529 animals come in," Major said. "Coupled with increased population growth, the biggest contributor is irresponsible pet owners allowing their animals to run at large without collars or other means of identification. Without any way to identify the animal's owner, the animal often winds up in the shelter. Animals with identification that are picked up are generally able to be promptly returned to their owner."

Majors added that the shelter has a dog food program where they give out donated dog food to people in need, which allows pet owners who are in financial hardship to continue to care for their pets.

The county recently completed construction of a new shelter facility that allows for more room for animal play areas and other operations, allowing them to accommodate 114 dogs and 30 cats.

"The [Baldwin County] Commission also budgeted to add three additional shelter staff positions in the Fiscal Year 2024 budget to help care for and manage the animals," he said. "To help encourage more animal adoptions, we currently have half-priced adoptions and facilitate multiple special adoption events on weekends at various locations throughout the county. In addition, we partner with over 40 animal rescue groups throughout the nation to help adopt animals to good homes."

Baldwin County Humane Society Executive Director Abby Pruett said the increase of animals in shelters is a combination of the post COVID-19 world and income challenges.

During COVID-19, BCHS completed 40 to 50 adoptions per month. Despite seeing a decrease in adoptions since the pandemic period, Pruett highlighted the importance of supporting pet owners facing economic difficulties.

"Money is tight for people, and one of the first things I think people realize is costing them a lot of money is their pets," Pruett said. "So whether it is an apartment fee, food or bedding, I think finances has a lot to do with it."

To encourage people to foster or adopt, BCHS also has a pet food pantry to assist those who need help.

"There is no limit to when or how much you can take, so that is one thing we try to do because food is expensive," she said. "You are talking about $30 to $40 a bag, and some people spend a couple hundred a month feeding their pet."

BCHS also offers a public Medical Assistance Program, which helps individuals cover medical expenses for their pet.

"That is probably our biggest program," Pruett said. "We spend anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 a year on that program. This program does not cover vaccines, but it covers if their animal is ill."

Pruett added that the BCHS building can fit a total of 60 to 70 animals, and they fluctuate from about 60 to 100 animals a month. The society relies on fosters to offer a temporary or even permanent home.

In the 11 years that Pruett has been a part of BCHS, she said they have seen 300 individuals become fosters and open their homes to these animals.

Before a pet enters a home, BCHS ensures that each home is safe, if the individual has other pets, if they are allowed to have animals on the property and that everyone within the home has agreed upon the pet.

If one fosters an animal but feels as though the dog or cat is not a good fit for their home, BCHS gives a grace period of two or three weeks to return the pet.

"When people foster, it opens up a kennel space, which is another life that can be saved, so that is really big," she said. "It also really helps specifically with our very young and very old animals. They get stressed, and that can exacerbate other health issues, so it keeps them a lot healthier."

During her fostering journey, Uttaro found her calling was with senior and adult dogs, having temporarily cared for a total of 16 dogs in Baldwin County and adopting one.

"The nice thing about fostering, too, is you are not responsible for any vet bills and all that kind of stuff," she said. "I just really love the dogs."

To remember the dogs who have been welcomed in Uttaro's home, she has a wall that features photos of them before they found their forever home.

"A lot of times, I tell people I foster," she said. "I kind of wish that people would go 'oh gosh, I should try it.' I would just say do it because once you do it, then you are on your way and just work with the shelter on what dog you would work best with. I foster to give back."